Students on Interdisciplinary Expedition Explore Burke County

Brevard College students walking past bell tower

by Elizabeth Billips for The True
May 20, 2015

A group of Brevard College students got acquainted with Burke County on an expedition from the Continental Divide to the Atlantic Ocean.

“We are so happy to have a current,” student Adam Perkins said after pulling his kayak onto the banks of the Savannah River at Hargrove’s Landing. “On the lakes, we only traveled about two-and-a-half miles an hour. On the river, we are getting about six.”

The 11 students and two professors were about midway through their 336-mile Voice of the Rivers journey when they spent last Wednesday and Thursday nights in Burke County – one night at the Hargroves’river house and the next on the oxbow lake at Little Hell Landing.

The intensive 18-day expedition began in their home state on Lake Jocassee and carried them through the Class 4 rapids of the Chattooga, then across Lakes Hartwell, Russell and, finally, Thurmond where the waters narrowed back into Savannah River and carried them to Burke County.

They were expected to make landfall Wednesday at the Tybee Island Lighthouse. With exception to their night at Hargrove’s Landing, most days ended on primitive campsites with a river or lake bath and a Coleman stove supper.

“This will be my second shower of the trip,” junior Rosie Di- Matteo laughed as she waited her turn for the luxury of hot water.

While the trip was designed as a hands-on course combining two college classes – leadership skills and community economics – DiMatteo said one of greatest lessons came through the unlikely friendships they forged along the way.

“Our backgrounds are so different,” she said, listing off college majors that run the gamut from geology to English. “It’s pretty cool that this brought us all together.”

For classmate Brice Molton, it’s the stories that have stayed with him.

“We’ve stopped all along the way and talked to the locals and learned from them,” he said. “To hear how the river affects them is pretty special.”

That’s actually just what Brevard professors Mike Oliphant and John Buford had in mind when they agreed to head this year’s Voice of the Rivers – a program created in 1997 with a vision of connecting the college to communities beyond it.

“Connecting with other communities downriver is a huge part of what the kids get out of this,” Buford said, noting the doubleeffect of floating his students past the massive towers of Plant Vogtle then sitting them down to talk with the people of Burke County who live in its shadow. “You can read online and in newspapers all you want … but until you talk to somebody who is living it, you really don’t have a full understanding.”

Learn more about Voice of the Rivers at Brevard College.